Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder)
If Ringwald’s Baker epitomizes the dilemma of an unpopular teen trying to fit in and land a handsome boyfriend, Ryder’s Veronica (far right, in the photo) is the flip side. She’s pretty and popular but trapped in a clique that terrorizes the school, and trapped as well in a seriously warped, co-dependent relationship with boyfriend, J.D. (Christian Slater), a homicidal sociopath who might as well be a monster summoned from her own id, knocking off the bullies she lacks the courage to confront directly. Or, as she notes, “My teen angst bulls–t has a body count.”
As she discovers, being snarky and antisocial from the sidelines can be its own trap. It ought to be hard for moviegoers to like or even identify with a dithery, privileged girl who’s an accessory to murder, but Ryder is in touch with her inner dork, and she makes Veronica’s lethal confusion sympathetic. At last, she finds in herself the bravery to challenge not just her own demons but the corrupt lunchroom hierarchy as well. Sure, there’s going to be years of therapy ahead (and maybe a manslaughter term), but at least she has the bravery to take on the system, not just go along with it and keep her head down until graduation. Which is more than most high school heroines do.